Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Magic of Spring Cleaning

This month, in keeping with the season, I'm in the middle of a whole house Spring cleaning project. Actually, let me correct myself- it is Spring tidying and not Spring cleaning. What I am doing is clearing out clutter and getting our home organized.

The tail end of March threw me a bit of a curve ball in the form of minor surgery on my big toe- minor surgery with some pretty major discomfort which kept me off my feet for a while. A couple of weeks ago I was finally feeling energetic and closer to my usual self, ready to tackle this project. The renovation of part of our home was completed in mid-April which was great timing to be getting the house in order, quite literally. And we have friends and family visiting all the way from Memorial Day to beyond Labor day, so being streamlined is going to be sanity-saving.

Image: Goodreads
To properly psych myself up for this task, I went straight to the library and borrowed a bestseller- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I could not have chosen a more motivating book. Who would have thought that a book about home organization would be so polarizing? But KonMari as the author is called is beloved by some and criticized by others. KonMari is very quirky. She is single-minded in her insistence that the exacting KonMari method is the one and only way to get lasting results as far as life-long tidiness goes. But there were so many points in this book that resonated with me. To quote a few:

1. "A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming."

2. On gifts: "The true purpose of a present is to be received". The purpose of a gift is simply to convey feelings. Once the gift has been accepted with joy and gratitude, its job is done. If you can use it, great, if not, donate or discard it without any guilty feelings. Thinking about this also reminded me to give gifts that are functional or consumable or "experience gifts"- and less likely to end up as clutter.

3. "Start by discarding". Don't organize clutter, just get rid of it. No need to rush out and buy containers and storage furniture. Only keep enough stuff that can reasonably live in the space you have.

4. "Does it spark joy?" This is the ultimate KonMari catchphrase. I take this to mean that an object must add some value to your life by being useful or by making you happy in some way. Choose what you want to keep in your life.

5. "Appreciate your possessions". I've heard it being said that KonMari's obsession with ruthless decluttering is wasteful but in fact I thought that this is a book that is remarkably eco-friendly. She talks about cherishing your possessions and expressing gratitude towards them. It means you own only things you love and take good care of them.

6. "Designate a place for each thing". Tidying is a simple concept, where every object should have a home and be returned to that home when you are done using it.

7. On a more practical note: "Store things standing up rather than laid flat." Piling things one of top of another means that stuff gets buried and you can't see what you have.

8. "Before you start, visualize the destination". When I look at design blogs, the spaces I'm drawn to are full of natural light and color, functional, welcoming and free of clutter. That's the "happy modern cottage" look that I would like my home to have.

9. Finally, this gem: "The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life".

One of my biggest motivations for this Spring tidying marathon is to create spaces that my kids can thrive in. We have a baby who is on the cusp of being mobile and needs space to explore his world safely and freely.

Meanwhile, I have been observing our preschooler for 5 and a half years and have a good understanding of what kind of play she engages in and what environment suits her best. It turns out that she ignores most of her toys. She would rather engage in pretend play using objects around the house and stuff retrieved from the recycling bin. She ignored her play kitchen set and instead took away my set of measuring cups to play with. Don't worry, mama, she told me magnanimously, you can borrow these measuring cups any time you need them.

These days, she's also spending a lot of time playing board games and making arts and crafts. In December, V was out of the country for ten excruciatingly long days and I had to come up with strategies to keep Lila busy after school while I was occupied with a demanding young baby. What worked best is that I spread a waterproof sheet on the dining table and converted it to an "art studio". We spread out sheets of paper, blank cards, stickers, crayons, markers, paints and let everything stay out there on the table as we made holiday cards and random artwork day after day. Having materials accessible at arm's reach is excellent for sparking creativity at a moment's notice. 

All these things were on my mind when I listened to this podcast and they talked about embracing simplicity and editing their children's toys. It reminded me of a post I read a long time ago about a mother who took all her kids' toys away in an extreme parenting moment and discovered that less is indeed more.

So I KonMaried the children's books and toys. I did it on a day that I had taken off from work while the kids were conveniently at school- it was my birthday, actually. If it seems loopy to spend one's rare and precious day off doing this, well, all I can say is that it brought me a great deal of mental satisfaction. It took hours and the work continued this weekend.

Two big bags of toys have been donated to the thrift store, there is a folding table permanently set up as an art space, board games and books are neatly arranged vertically and everything is visible and available for playing, reading, creating.

V warned me that Lila would not be happy to see the changes. He got me worried and I smiled nervously as I greeted Lila off the bus that day. To my astonishment she noticed NOTHING. Strolled over and started playing with the wombat stuffie that I had unearthed.

It takes a lot of privilege to have so much stuff that you even have to worry about decluttering and simplifying. But this is the best way to not take that privilege for granted- by having fewer things, taking care of them and enjoying them actively rather than looking to acquire more and more. This whole exercise has been just wonderful. Maybe life-changing, even ;)

Tell me- what does "stuff" mean to you? Oh, and Happy May!

30 comments:

  1. So agree with this great post Nupur. I have been following minimalist.com blog to take out unnecessary, unused stuff from home. Makes the heart feel so light. However, I do get caught sometimes in wants and desires-:)
    Less is More and each stuff needs to rest at right place-:) thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes!! It does make the heart feel lighter! The Minimalists also have a documentary out on Netflix which was interesting but I thought they could have put a lot more things in to make the documentary more action-oriented.

      Delete
  2. Hi Nupur, it was so nice to read a post that had me nodding my head all the way through! I go through these de-cluttering phases a couple of times a year and, like you, have cleared away so many unused toys. My son has never noticed. Luckily, like your daughter, he has never really been into toys. His books and odd household objects that he has converted into toys are the things that occupy his focus. Over the years so many unused and gently used toys, clothes and shoes have been sent to orphanages and refugee camps in the hope that they will bring some much-needed pleasure to other children. Most of these toys were gifts, given on birthdays and by generous friends and relatives over the years. I have personally never bought my son many toys as I know how quickly many children lose interest in these items which then lie on shelves gathering dust. At my son's birthday party last month,I asked the parents of the small group of children who were invited, to bring donations for charity bags instead of gifts. I did this with my son's full agreement. After his party we made up 15 bags and donated them to workers at a construction site nearby (we live in the UAE). As I have got older I have started to accumulate less and less. It gives me pleasure to have a few treasured objects around but no clutter. Now, if only I could apply that philosophy to my bookshelves! In the absence of good libraries one does tend to accumulate books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amber- Hi! How great that your son did that for his birthday.

      Last year, I tried to convince Lila to forego gifts for her birthday, saying we (parents) would buy her a "most wanted" item and write "no gifts please" on birthday invites. She quickly nixed the idea! :D We will try again this year.

      Accepting gifts graciously and writing thank you notes is an art in itself and something kids do have to learn, so I am OK with birthday gifts if she insists. Luckily in our community people tend to give modest gifts and nothing over the top.

      Delete
  3. Hi Nupur, great timing with the spring tidying post! I tried to KonMarie my house last year but unfortunately couldn't see it through. I gave up on folding my tshirts and making them stand upright in drawers. Also, my teen girls couldn't stop teasing me with the mantra; "Does it spark joy, mom?" every time they put away the dishes or did some cleaning around the house. :) But I loved the concepts and the logic explained in the book so much that I also bought the sequel as well. I'm waiting for the summer to finish what I started last year. I couldn't agree more with the toys-editing task that you talk about. I did something similar to my teen's bookshelf last year, and she didn't miss anything either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Leena- I'm not getting on the folding brigade either. I hang clothes and that works well enough! My sister has started teasing me about the "spark joy" ;)

      Delete
  4. Love this! I'm convinced, if we knew each other in real life, we'd be best friends :)
    I read Marie's book last year and her philosophy comes to mind each time I consider a purchase whether big or small. I did a massive declutter when we moved last summer. I've pared down my closet although have not quite gotten into her folding technique. Old habits die hard. Plus, I don't have a big dresser . I got rid of a lot of my kids' toys when we moved but, like you, I find that they still don't play with the ones that are left. They have a few favorites and those get played with over and over. My daughter is turning 8 this month and toys don't interest her anymore. Books are what she surrounds herself with. I don't buy very many book though since we have a public library close by.
    I have kept a box in one of the closets as a spot for putting things in that I want to donate and a box in our closet for clothes that the kids have outgrown or that we don't love anymore. This has helped get things out as and when I find them instead of waiting for a big declutter day.

    My biggest challenge this year has been the massive amount of paper that my daughter brings from school. Until last year I would pretty much get rid of everything, I'm not sentimental about saving every bit of paper that she brings from school. I save any special cards etc but would throw out everything else right away. However, 2nd grade has been another story. She started getting grades this year. I have had to save her school assignments, worksheets etc to review for tests a few weeks later and can't toss anything out just in case we need to review the material for district tests etc. I got a divided tray but greatly underestimated how much paper would actually come home. The tray overflowed in a few months. I have let it all pile up in a corner of our counter and have told myself not to bother now with just 3-4 weeks left of school. I will figure out a better system this summer for the next school year.

    Everything is still very much a work in progress to find a spot for all our stuff in our new home. I'm glad though that neither my husband nor I are hoarders and don't emotionally attach ourselves to stuff.

    -Anu

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anu- Yes, we would certainly be besties ;)

      I don't fully understand the KonMari obsession with folding- I use hangers and they are tidy enough. We too have a public library that we use heavily, so a couple of small bookshelves (one for kids and one for parents) is all we need. Like you, I have rubbermaid type storage totes for each child: "to grow into" and "outgrown", so clothes can be cycled through on a continuous basis as the kids grow like weeds.

      So true that the "systems" have to constantly adjusted as kids grow and their needs change. And YES not being emotionally attached to stuff is a huge help in keeping the home tidy.

      Delete
    2. Since you also listen to the YHL podcast, may I recommend a couple other favorites? Do try How I Built This and Kind World. And for Lila, the Stories podcast.

      Your bestie ;)
      -Anu

      Delete
    3. Throughout the week I save the papers that come in , in a folder. At end of week I go thru them and discard unimportant stuff and save the rest in a 2G zip lock bag. Its worked nicely for me so far.. I also have another folder for important grade work stuff like word lists etc.

      Delete
    4. Hi Nupur,

      I'm currently reading "Eating on the wild side" and I think you will really enjoy this book. Each chapter deals with one vegetable or fruit group and goes into details of what's the optimum way to store and prepare each to get the most benefits out of it. Has been really eye opening for me. Got it from the library, yours might have it too.

      -Anu

      Thanks, Suparna for the idea..will try it for sure. I definitely need a better plan than what I've done this year.

      Delete
  5. Thanks Nupur. Really, thanks a ton for writing like this, for just breaking down your thought process in this neat orderly fashion - it's a simple thing like a blog post but if anything, I like how an idea begins and flows and the post just writes itself. And thanks for the topic too! :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Nupur,

    I desire to be a minimalist. That was my dream from when I was a little girl to have a home with very few but lovely things with dark furniture and white curtains swaying in the winds. Makes me smile now :)

    But it is has been very hard to practice it. I have a fairly clean and uncluttered home but things keep accumulating because of how easy it is to acquire pretty things now. And also we have other family members that are very possessive about their stuff :)

    I get very uneasy when my pantry, my closets or my garage is full. So I have to constantly declutter every few months or so. It makes me feel light and peaceful.

    Now that our affordability has increased than when we were younger, I would rather buy fewer quality products that we can cherish and create family heirlooms for my kids.

    Best,
    SS

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SS- White curtains swaying in the breeze- what a lovely picture indeed. It is so true that things keep accumulating. We do live in this consumerist culture and stuff is everywhere. Like you, I get very anxious when I feel my space getting cluttered. Thanks for the nice note!

      Delete
  7. Awesome post. I have been consciously following minimalism for the past few years. For me a major game changer with reducing clutter and unnecessary things was to stop shopping clearance, sales, yard sales etc. Most of my prior purchases would be when some shop had a sale. It did not matter if I 'really' needed that item or not. Now, I but ONLY if I need something. This means, I go for a year or more without shopping for clothes/household items/toys. I only buy quality products/clothes that last me for years on end and I am forced to take good car of them too.
    With toys, we do toy rotation. Where we have divided the toys in 2 sets. I keep one locked in the cupboard till my almost 4 year old has lost interest in his current set. The only challenge with this is (esp with my son who has ridiculous memory) he will remember some random car (from his crazy car collection) of certain color which will be locked up in the cupboard and will keep interrogating me on where it disappeared. If it gets too much, I have to do "magic" and procure it while he is at school. He has seriously started believing I have real magical powers now. lol!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Neha- I don't like shopping in general but enjoy discovering "treasures" at yard sales, consignment sales and thrift stores. This Spring I have had to take a step back and quit some of that. "Buying it for life" is a great mentality and an antidote to the prevailing disposable culture.

      Delete
  8. Now that is some motivation for me to start taking the junk out of my oh so cluttered house !! phew !! :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Have you ever read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne? I think you would enjoy it, based on this post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is on my list to read! You've reminded me to look for it in the library.

      Delete
  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I agree. Decluttering leads to contentment. We realize that toys cannot replace the time we spend with kids and Total $$ spent is not proportional to time spent by kids with the toy.. in fact the $1 side walk chalk, bubbles,jump ropes have given endless hours fun to my kiddos.. Very good post Nupur.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Suparna- yes to the magic of chalk and bubbles! My kids ignore the toys and play with the wrapping paper and box ;)

      Delete
  12. Your posts are always soo motivating Nupur! Thank u!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the nice comment!

      Delete
  13. A couple of years ago, I went through a major decluttering phase that led me to get rid of clothes, furniture, music, books, etc. It was a good experience. These days, I have very little desire to buy stuff. Apart from food/groceries, there is hardly anything new that enters the home. And I really like it that way.

    It keeps the home clean and spacious, clutter-free. Expenses are reduced as well. Most importantly, I really enjoy the thoughtful approach towards buying and consumption.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lakshmi- and not constantly shopping for stuff, storing stuff, cleaning and caring for millions of things opens up time to do things you really enjoy. I will say that having kids seems to exponentially increase the amount of new stuff that enters the home- one has to be pro-active to curb it.

      Delete
  14. Such an inspiring post Nupur, as always..I hope to meet you in person some day:) incidentally reading KonMarie book right now, the key takeaway for me is every item should have it own place, so only job is to put it away later. Kids school and artwork is a major hotspot for clutter that still needs some thought.

    ReplyDelete
  15. coming back after a long time to such a timely post. We read the same book and have done the same with a bunch of kids books and toys. My clothes are next. I hope you all are doing well.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to say hello!